Your Guide to West Timor
The island of Timor is divided by a border into East and West territories. The western region which is part of the Indonesian province, East Nusa Tenggara, is less well-known than its neighbor. East Timor is an independent nation and its struggle to achieve this status means it is recognized around the world. West Timor on the other hand is relatively unknown internationally and this is one of the reasons why the different cultures have been so well preserved. West Timor is a must-visit destination for people looking for off-the-beaten-track adventures.
Christianity is the official religion in West Timor, but many rural communities still practice the worship of nature: Animism. Musical ceremonies are key to Animism, people dance and sing in rituals to ask for help from ancestors or to celebrate. These occasions occur when the villages are planting crops, asking for good weather and yields from the crops and weddings, etc. Geographically, West Timor has a dry climate and much of it is made up of savannah, unlike the other tropical islands nearby. Our guide to West Timor will tell you all about the history, culture, and top sights.
Like the eastern side of the island, West Timor was originally claimed by the Portuguese in 1520 as a wave of European colonizers swept across Southeast Asia. Then, when the Dutch East India Company landed in Kupang in 1640, they forced the Portuguese into East Timor. Around 150 years later, when the company collapsed, the area returned to official Dutch rule. The border between the east and the west was finally made official in 1914 but just 32 years later, West Timor was occupied by the Japanese for 3 years. Today it’s still possible to visit many of their military posts and hideouts.
Despite the formalization of the border, in 1975, Indonesian troops crossed over into East Timor and invaded the territory. This was the start of a 27-year long occupation riddled with violence and aggression, which finally ended in 2002 when East Timor finally gained recognized sovereignty.
The fact that West Timor is an area where numerous languages are spoken, such as Dawan, Marae, and Tetun, shows how important culture and cultural preservation is to the different communities that live there. Many of the inhabitants of the hilltop villages have little contact with the outside world and live in the same way they have done for hundreds of years. The lack of infrastructure and sometimes inaccessible roads has helped these communities pass on their traditions.
One of the main reasons many people come to West Timor is to have authentic experiences with local tribes. Many villages have chiefs who ensure that adat (local law) is upheld and respected. Visitors explore elements of the culture through artwork such as the wooden beams carved into the shapes of birds and the patterns of carefully woven materials. Those who make their way to the villages will also see the traditional lopo, meeting houses that are built in the shape of a beehive. Markets are another essential part of village life. You can find anything from a chicken to local handicrafts at these bustling fairs and a visit to one is a great way to meet local people and understand the culture.
Another key aspect of West Timorese culture is the betel nut. On your travels around the province, you’re likely to see many of the older locals with red-stained mouths and teeth. Locals mix the betel nut (a seed of the areca palm) with limestone powder and chew it, the mixture is meant to produce a high. Once chewed, they then spit the red paste out onto the road, hence the circular red stains on the dusty roads and paths that you’ll be sure to see with a visit to the country.
Sasando music has long been key to West Timorese culture. It originates, like many Timorese traditions, from the small island of Rote, just southwest of West Timor. At the center of this traditional music is a harp-like instrument made from a bamboo frame and threaded with strings that are plucked to produce sound. Most of the instruments are made in the idyllic Oebelo Village, just outside Kupang and the music is thought to have been played by the people of Rote since the 7th century.
It’s hard to craft a list of top sights in West Timor as there is so much to see and do. Here is our landmark guide to West Timor.
As the capital of the province, Kupang has plenty to keep travelers entertained on their trips. The Museum Nusa Tenggara Timur is home to a collection of shells, and ancient weapons, as well as a full-sized blue whale skeleton. A visit here is a great way to get a base understanding of the history and culture of the area. The city is also a clash of traditional and colonial architecture, making it a fascinating case study for anyone interested in city landscapes. When you get hungry, be sure to head to the city’s fish market for a taste of fresh seafood.
Out of all the villages in West Timor, Boti is often mentioned as the most interesting. When the Portuguese invaded, its location was so inaccessible that it was effectively hidden from the colonists. This meant that the community was never forced to convert to Christianity like many other villages. Still to this day, the community lives in a traditional way, the villagers spend most of their days working in the fields and are self-sufficient. They make money from the visitors to the village (there’s an entrance fee and a charge for the homestay) and they also sell their handicrafts made using the traditional weaving techniques. They even make some of their ikat (sarongs and belts) from cotton that they have grown themselves.
None is particularly special because the tribe followed headhunting traditions up until the 1940s. These traditions meant that the tribe’s warriors would decapitate their enemies and hold 4-day ceremonies with the severed head being presented to the king at the end. Visitors to None can learn all about this history from local tribespeople.
When visiting local communities, it is essential to travel with a local guide, not only for translation reasons but also to navigate the roads. It is important to understand elements of the tribal culture before you go, which is why at Manny Timor Tours we brief our guests on the communities before arrival and act as translators during the visit. If you’re interested in our West Timor tour, please send us a message.